at the local level. These applications may involve welfare programs, health care and education. The authority has set aside $4 million in grant money for e-communities and hopes to raise another $2.5 million as well.

Yet, even with $30 million to start, Patterson says that funding remains an issue. She points out that as the regional Bell rolls out DSL service to its central offices throughout the state, many rural residents still must wait to be connected. Then there's the problem of getting the state's rural, local governments online and capable of offering transactional, e-government services. That's a major issue, Patterson lamented.

At some point, the state needs to rethink how it views Internet access so that it is no longer viewed as an option, but as an integral infrastructure and public service. "We are really trying to develop a model where the state continues to look at the Internet constantly, just like it does for water, sewer and highways," said Patterson.

Tod Newcombe  |  Features Editor